Friday, July 11, 2008

#5 - what if?

this week i'm writing each day about a person, place or thing that has had a big effect on my life. i'm going to be leaving aside parents, sister, husband and daughter because those are a given for having had a big effect and writing about that effect would be way more typing than i should do with the angry nerve in my left hand.

this is the last installment. it has been a very interesting assignment and i have even discovered a few things along the way (the thing about reagan) and confirmed others (the iPod posting proves what we have long suspected--i have a very deep shallow streak). i think i'll try to come up with some other writing assignments for myself in the coming weeks. if there are any ideas/suggestions out there, please do leave a comment!

this last of the 5 people, places or things that have had a big effect on my life is another professor. as i pondered this one, i found myself thinking how different my life would be if i'd never met her.

if i'd never signed up for a graduate course called intro to comparative literature during my first semester at playboy magazine's #1 party school, i might not ever have met elizabeth horan. 

i was interested in comp lit because i thought i eventually wanted a ph.d. in it. in fact, i had applied to a ph.d. program (only one, silly me) and didn't get in because i had had only russian lit and thus nothing to compare, so i found myself seeking another master's degree, in humanities, to try to get something to compare to the russian stuff.

if i hadn't taken that course, i wouldn't have:
  • had my first exposure to magical realism.
  • or reception theory.
  • or had my first thoughts on the implications of translation on the literary work.
  • met two fantastic and interesting people who i am still friends with to this day.
  • had a truly fantastic discussion about the poetry of osip mandelstam and anna akhmatova.
  • found my voice and thus my confidence in the graduate classroom (despite already having a master's degree when i started, i wouldn't say i'd really found my graduate feet).
  • met the professor who would head my thesis committee.
and i certainly wouldn't have signed up for another of prof. horan's courses:  nobel prize winners from north and south america. and if i hadn't done that, i wouldn't have:
  • made the completely hilarious and annoyingly consistent mistake of referring to the swedish academy as the "swiss" academy throughout the bit i wrote for a group assignment! (in fact, i still haven't lived that one down!)
  • suggested that a figure like camille paglia might eventually win a nobel prize for literature (i was a bit off there, but i intentionally wanted to go for a longshot and my arguments were good).
  • i wouldn't have stuck my foot in my mouth about annoying high school teachers who thought they could fit in in graduate courses, saying it TO one of said annoying high school teachers. (sigh...we learn from these experiences).
  • had the chance to prepare in depth and teach a session on octavio paz.
  • read a whole lot more gabriel garcia marquez and pablo neruda and gabriele mistral.
  • gone out to casey moore's for beers and wings twice a week with the gang after class.
i adored prof. horan's teaching style. she was very laid back and very much let the course be student-driven. we took turns presenting the assigned readings and it went a long way towards preparing us both as researchers and as teachers, which is more than most graduate programs do.

but the most important thing she did for me was point out a poster for meetings regarding applying for fulbright scholarships. she said, "you should go, they'd be crazy not to give you one." i was blown away. i hadn't even been considering it. what would i research? where would i go? how would i pitch it? would they really give one to me? but those are prestigious! how could that be?

so i went to the meeting. it seemed that the #1 party school year after year wanted to shed that image and raise their academic reputation (and in all honesty, at the graduate level, it was awesome--very engaged teachers and students all around!). they saw helping their students gain fulbrights as one way of doing that. and help us they did. there were 7 or 8 of us receiving a fulbright that year.

and prof. horan was probably the biggest help to me of all, not only by suggesting i apply, but in helping me shape my application (she'd had at least one herself, so she knew how it all worked), but also writing me what my dad called the mother of all recommendation letters. it was like having a letter from god that would open any door. and although i hardly recognized myself in it, i was and will be eternally grateful for the kind words that were there.

but the biggest "what if" in this is that if it hadn't all gone as it did, i wouldn't have been in the right place at the right time to meet that lovely danish boy who is now my husband (and has been for nearly 10 years!) and i shudder to think about that. i would have lived a completely different life without elizabeth horan. so i am forever grateful to her for all that she taught me--both in the classroom and about myself and even more so for the guidance she gave. she definitely steered me in the right direction.


enchantedartist said...

I have really enjoyed hearing about these experiences of yours! It's amazing the impact a great teacher can have on us, isn't it? I mean she led you round the world to your love...How wonderful is that?

(oh, and that plant you were wondering about is known as Bee Balm, Bergamot,or Monarda. I've been trying to get it to grow here for years,so I was very excited to finally get one to bloom.:)

polona said...

i have truly enjoyed your stories about what influenced your life.
it's amazing how some things eventually connect...

Anonymous said...

i just had to read the last one in this series and i am so glad i did julie. what an amazing mind you have. i admire your scholarly endeavors and commitment to learning. and the best part is......i just had this feeling, i don't know from where, that you were going to end this post with meeting your sweet husband :) and you did! isn't that cool how people can read between the lines or between the clouds or whatever it was i did to 'see' coming.